Monday, July 30, 2012

ATA 2012 Annual Conference Session: Let's Talk Trash!

By Abigail Dahlberg, German-English Environmental Translations

As the world starts to run short on raw materials, industry and policy-makers are increasingly looking to waste to bridge the gap. This state of affairs has sparked somewhat of an identity crisis for the waste management industry, which is now struggling to define when a waste becomes a secondary raw material. This is also reflected into the terminology that is now in use: Fewer and fewer texts refer to "garbage" (US English) or "rubbish". Instead, businesses prefer to put on a positive spin and refer to recycled raw materials or secondary raw materials.

Beyond the issues of what is and what is not a waste, new developments have also come thick and fast in the field of waste treatment technologies. In the industrialized world, the days of simply taking everything to the local dump are over. Europe and Japan are leading the way with ambitious targets to reduce the amount of waste consigned to landfill. This is bringing more sophisticated technologies to the fore, namely mechanical-biological treatment, waste-to-energy processes and other recycling techniques. The US is some distance behind, but is also slowly but surely taking steps towards embracing recycling.

Yet, staggering differences with regards to the recovery and disposal of waste remain around the globe. While residents in African countries are lucky if they have any sort of waste collection systems, homeowners in Germany have to sort their waste into any number of different bins. My presentation at the ATA Conference will address these issues and also provide an in-depth look at the nuts and bolts of different waste treatment systems.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ATA 2012 Annual Conference Session: The "God Particle", Dark Matter, Black Holes, and All That

By Carola F. Berger, Ph.D.

The physics blogosphere is currently buzzing with wild rumors about a possible announcement of the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson (AKA the "God particle") at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland. The rumors are so substantial that even mass media such as the New York Times have been picking up the news. CERN issued a press release, announcing an update on the Higgs search on July 4, at the biggest particle physics conference of the year, ICHEP in Melbourne, Australia.

The discovery of this particle may have important consequences for our current understanding of the universe and its content because currently we only know what less than 5% of the universe is made of. The other 95% are more or less unknown, conjectured to consist partly of unknown particles, the so-called “dark matter”, and something even more elusive that has been dubbed “dark energy”. The LHC has been built to shed some light on these mysteries. The LHC at CERN is not only the world's largest machine (as well as the world’s largest fridge), but also home of the world's largest international scientific collaborations, with scientists from over 100 different nations. As such, the underlying science may be of interest to linguists.

At the LHC, subatomic particles are smashed together at nearly the speed of light. The energy created in these collisions is then converted back into matter. The CERN scientists hope that the collision energy is large enough to create new forms of matter, among them the Higgs boson. The reason why the discovery of this particle is so important is because the theoretical mechanism which predicts the existence of the Higgs also explains why particles have mass – otherwise we’d all be buzzing around the universe massless and at the speed of light. Therefore, if the theory is correct, this particle has to exist. If it does not, our understanding of even the less than 5% of the universe that we think we know has to be revised.

The talk will give a basic overview on the search for the Higgs (also known as the “God particle”), dark matter, and all the other related buzzwords, as well as an explanation of the concepts hinted at above, at a level intended for a non-expert audience. The talk should be interesting to physics-experts as well, because an overview over the latest results and – hopefully – the discovery of the Higgs will be presented.

From a linguistic perspective, as mentioned above, thousands of scientists from over 100 different nations are collaborating on the experiments at CERN. Although the scientific papers are published in English, and the official CERN council languages are English, French, and German, many physicists share their knowledge in their native languages at blogs such as The official CERN website,, is available in English and in French, and some subset of pages in various other languages, although there are many more languages spoken in the CERN member states. In particle physics, preprints for the majority of publications, are freely accessible at, although you may have to pay a fee to view the final journal versions (which usually differ only marginally from the free versions on the arXiv). Other fields of physics, mathematics, and other sciences are following suit and are beginning to provide open access to their publications via the arXiv or similar online portals. These publications are mainly in English, although some people publish their theses and similar documents in their native language. There may well be some linguistic opportunities out there.